Should the Catholic priesthood be restricted to single, celibate men? Do clergy restrictions based on gender, marital status or sexual orientation make sense these days?
As an atheist and an ex-Catholic, I cannot claim to be displeased at the spectacle of the Roman Catholic Church continuing to shoot itself in the foot by refusing to ordain women or to allow priests to marry. If I cared about the survival of the Catholic Church, however, I would have to say that the severe priest shortage would end tomorrow if the church simply allowed its preachers to have a normal family and sexual life. But Palestinians and Israelis are going to embrace one another in a joint ceremony at the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock before the rigid old men who run the Vatican open up the doors of the priesthood to people who want to serve their god and enter into the full experience of loving and being loved by another human being.
The vast majority of American Catholics see no need for priestly celibacy and support the ordination of women. Father Alberto Cutie, the appropriately named Miami priest and television star who was caught embracing an adult female companion on the beach, has received strong support from many of his parishioners and fans. He has said that he loves the women in question and would like to marry her and remain a priest. Fat chance. (I must confess that Cutie does not have the same meaning in Spanish as in English, but I couldn’t resist.)
Pope Benedict XVI will not change his position on female priests or on priestly celibacy. One of the most ridiculous rationales for priestly celibacy used by the church has always been the notion that the celibacy requirement is not just about sex but about the need for a priest to be fully free to devote himself to the spiritual needs of his parishioners. The notion that a priest somehow becomes better attuned to the needs of his or her flock by forgoing intimate human love is so illogical that it needs no further comment. It may even be more illogical than the rationale for not admitting women to the priesthood, which rests on the biblical depiction of the twelve apostles as men. (By that logic, all priests should be Jews because the biblical Jesus and the Apostles were Jews.)
The priest shortage in the United States and western Europe began to develop in the late 1960s, when many young priests–who had once hoped that the Second Vatican Council would drop the requirement of priestly celibacy–began to realize that the successor to the great-hearted Pope John XXIII was not open to any fundamental change. Large numbers of heterosexual men left the priesthood at that time because they were no longer willing to give up the love of a woman for their priestly vocation.
This church, with no room in its priesthood for women or for men who simply wanted to love and live with another adult, then proceeded to turn a blind eye to the pedophile predators whose evil deeds were covered up by the hierarchy for decades.
The Rev. Donald Cozzens a celibate priest and professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Ohio, says, “I’ve asked dozens of men here that showed signs of deep faith if they had thought about going into the priesthood. They all said, ‘I’ve thought of it, but I want to have a family.'” You can be sure that Father Cozzens, the author of Freeing Celibacy, will not be promoted to monsignor or bishop any time soon.
Really, who cares about this other than the old men in the Vatican who want all younger priests to lead the same repressed, rigid, and lonely lives as their elders? In the U.S., an astonishing 25 percent of those raised as Catholics have left the church. Priestly celibacy, like the church’s position on birth control and female priests, is part of the mix that has led so many once-loyal Catholics out of the church. As an atheist, I am pleased by news of the rising dropout rate. If I were the pope, I would be really, really worried. Oh wait. Even if I weren’t an athiest, I couldn’t become pope because I am a woman.
LAST WEEK IN REVIEW
I was extremely pleased to read your discussion of Primo Levi. (Thank you, DOUG_WHITE AND FARNAZ1MANSOURI1.)This is precisely the sort of conversation that the blog was intended to facilitate. I consider Levi’s writings the most important works written by a Holocaust survivor and would rate them near the top of any list of books about the nature of good, evil, and the intermediate “gray zone” (his phrase from The Drowned And The Saved, the last work he completed before his death) One of Levi’s great virtues as a thinker and an observer is his rational approach to the irrational. He never backs away from what the Holocaust tells us about the most extreme evil possibilities of human nature in general–not merely the specific nature of Germans and those who aided them in their infernal efforts. Here is what he said in the conclusion of his last book:
“More often and more insistently as that time recedes, we are asked by the young who our ‘torturers’ were, of what cloth they were made. The term torturersalludes to our ex-guardians, the SS, and is in my opinion inappropriate: it brings to mind twisted individuals, ill-born, sadists, afflicted by an original flaw. Instead, they were made of the same cloth as we, they were average human beings, averagely intelligent, averagely wicked: save the exceptions, they were not monsters, they had our faces, but they had been reared badly.” What a world of thought there is for us today in that clause, “…but they had been reared badly.” I highly recommend all of Levi’s books to you. They have all been published in English.
By the way, it is by no means certain that Levi’s death was a suicide. Many of his closest friends don’t believe it. For one thing, Levi was a professional chemist who could have obtained easy access to a more certain way of suicide than throwing himself down the stairs. One reason why the media jumped to premature conclusions on this matter was that such conclusions fitted one stereotype often applied to camp survivors–that they could not help but be permanently warped by what they had seen and endured. For the best, fair-minded summary of all the available evidence on this, read “Primo Levi’s Last Moments,” by Diego Gambetta, published in the Boston Review, April-May 2004. It’s available online, http://bostonreview.net/BR24.3/gambetta.html.
I know one thing after reading Levi: he would have detested any attempt, based on the manner of his death, to make psychological generalizations about Holocaust survivors.
Elie Wiesel’s comment that Levi “died at Auschwitz 40 years later” is emotionally understandable, but I don’t think it’s true–whether Levi committed suicide or not. Had the spirit and mind of this man died at Auschwitz, his books would not have been written.
One point Levi makes frequently is that the memory of Holocaust survivors is as malleable and imperfect as the memories of all human beings. Many survivors, Levi notes, have reinterpreted their personal memories and melded them with what other survivors have written over the years. The idea that Holocaust survivors must be emotionally and psychologically crippled became extremely widespread in the 1980s; it was often propounded by psychologists who had treated Holocaust survivors for depression. But it certainly doesn’t tell us anything about survivors as a group.
Most of you did a great job last week of ignoring off-point comments. Keep it up.